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How To Make Sure You Never Forget How Old You Are

Wow! I remember my WordPress password. So now that I’m here, let’s write a blog, shall we?

People often ask me if working on a college campus keeps me young or makes me feel ancient. I always tell them it’s a little of both.

I work directly with students and sometimes they actually like me. They stop by my office just to say hi, compliment my outfit, or friend me on Facebook. Now and again they might even “like” one of my status updates. And that small click is “fountain of youth” worthy! Feeling young doesn’t mean I’m their best friend. I don’t have the desire or energy to feel 19-years-old again. It’s more like the cool aunt who because I am slightly younger than their parents, I am deemed acceptable to have a conversation with devoid of eye-rolling or texting. It is on these days when I think to myself, “Caryn, you are still hip!” I give myself a little high-five, pop up my collar, blast some T-Swift, and so very quickly, any youthful vibe is erased (but that liked status update lasts FOREVER).

But lately I have just felt old. Like “maybe I should take down my diplomas so they don’t see the year I graduated” old. Thinking back over the years of my career in higher education, I have pinpointed the following reasons why this may happen:

Pop Culture Differences

Every generation has their Beatles, their New Kids on the Block, or their Justin Bieber. And I love talking about who or what was popular “in my day” with students because sometimes they have heard of Nirvana or watch The Cosby Show on Nick at Nite. But everyone now and then, there is a disconnect that will leave you deciding that since you don’t even remember the 2.5 years you spent in the seventies, you will just tell people you were born in 1980.

I’ll never forget discussing the demise of Saturday Night Live with a student a couple of years ago. Generations have been having this conversation for decades, so there is nothing new here. And I felt a commonality with her as she lamented that she missed the “classic” seasons when the show was groundbreaking and funny. I thought, wow, here is a teenager who gets it and understands the legacy of sketch comedy people like Gilda Radner, John Belushi, Eddie Murphy and Dan Akroyd created. And then she added, “like when Will Ferrell was on it.” Okay, we’re done here.

Blank Stares

The Blank Stare is an important signal that you are about to feel like your grandmother. It is not uncommon for one to say something to a college student on any given day that will be met with an expression of concern that you may have just suffered a stroke because the words coming out of your mouth made no sense.

In a few weeks, I am taking a group of students to New York City for a study trip. I couldn’t wait to tell them that I had secured tickets for us to attend a taping of the Late Show with David Letterman! And there was plenty of excitement. But all I could focus on were the couple of Blank Stares in the crowd. “Who is this David Letterman of which you speak”, their faces said to me. Geez, it’s not like I said we were going to Jay Leno. (That would be less cool, right?)

Similarly, a classic story I like to tell is when, as a career counselor, I was explaining to a student the importance of using LinkedIn. I told her it was like an online rolodex. What’s a rolodex, she asked? Enter my own Blank Stare.


Assuming it has nothing to do with an action item I may has assigned them, the memories of these kids are amazing. They can tell me in detail about their weekend, semester-long study abroad, or four years of high school (and I’m glad they do, I love hearing their stories!). Meanwhile, this morning, I spent a good five minutes in the shower trying to remember if I had already shampooed my hair or not.

Look, I am nowhere near ancient. And I think one reason I enjoy my work so much is because I am youthful and can relate to students, developing relationships with them that allow me to feel like I might actually make this transitional time in their lives just a tad bit easier, more enjoyable, or supported. And if I am being honest with myself, the times when I do feel old, I am really feeling a twinge of jealousy. For the unique friendships they are forming, the new experiences they are having, and the adventures ahead of them.

Luckily, we all have new experiences and adventures awaiting us at every stage of life, and if we can go after them with the same zest and energy that college students tackle theirs, I think we are in good shape.

But first, a nap. I’m exhausted and I think I need to wash my hair again.


Dear 23-Year-Old Self…

Last week, WordPress’s Daily Post posed the blog topic: If you could have a 5 minute conversation with yourself 10 years ago, what would you say? I’m game, so let’s set the scene: I am 23 and it is February of 2001. I’m about six months into my first job at a public relations agency. I’m still at home after moving back from college, but it’s cool. The economy rocks and I’m pretty much just rolling along. In my 5 minutes, here are the 6 pieces of advice I would impart to my younger, dapper self:

1. In 7 years, you will turn 30. About four minutes into your 30th year, your metabolism will pack a bag and joyfully head south to live out its days in retirement on a beach. It won’t even leave a note.

There will be no major visible change to the outside eye, but you will have to start making conscious efforts to stay healthy and maintain your weight. I implore you, start these habits now! Modify your diet, learn to cook, and above all, start exercising. The earlier you make these changes, the easier it will be to carry them out throughout your life. Otherwise, at 33, you’ll be the queen of excuses to skip the gym.

2. Circles don’t fit into squares. Stop trying so hard to convince yourself otherwise.  In a few years, your best friend will give you a card with Buddha’s quote: “Learn to let go. That is the key to happiness.” You will keep it on your counter for years and years (still do). You will even quote it at social gatherings, pretending you are a cultural scholar of sorts.  But you won’t really believe it for a long time. Believe it.

3. Save your money. Not because of an uncertain economy or the rising costs of higher education, but because around 2008, I want you to invest in a self-serve frozen yogurt franchise. People will think you are crazy. They will say, “but we already have TCBY.” Ignore them. And soon, over a cup of red velvet cupcake yogurt mixed with a little bit of cake batter topped with sprinkles, they will apologize for doubting you.

4. Travel abroad! We already regret not studying abroad in college, don’t make the same mistake during this early part in your adult life while you are still living at home and have few expenses.

5. Take a graphic or website design type of class at a community college. Actually, I probably didn’t need to tell myself that 10 years ago. I need to tell myself that now.

6. You know that voice (which sometimes manifests itself as stomach pains on Sunday nights) that keeps telling you that you don’t really like your current job or the industry you chose? Listen to it. You eventually will, but you could do it a lot sooner. It doesn’t mean you’re a failure. And one day you will make a living out of telling people that it’s okay to change their mind about career decisions.

I don’t mean to present these as regrets (besides not studying abroad in college, I meant that one) because they are not. And I suspect that in 10 years, I will look back at my 33-year-old self and have plenty of “if I knew then what I know now” wisdom to share as well. But it wouldn’t be life without figuring it out for yourself. Your current self, that is.

What would you share with yourself 10 years ago? Would you even want to talk to yourself? I’m kind of afraid of what my hair would look like. I don’t think I bought a CHI until 2004.

Who’s The Boss?

He is.

So is he.

And – surprise! – they ALL were.

And as of this week… MEEEEEE!!

Well, I’m not really the boss, but for the first time in my professional career, I have been given the opportunity to supervise a full-time staff member. I’ve felt ready to assume this challenge, but it hasn’t been a possibility in my office until the recent hiring of a new position. I’m thrilled to have this chance.

Before I go any further, for the record, I would never actually use the term “boss” in my characterization of the relationship with our new employee. It sounds so…. bossy. But I have been thinking a lot about how I will settle into this role. I think those pictured above can give me some good advice for finding balance in this new part of my career.

1. Do you know how Springsteen got the nickname “The Boss?” When he started playing with his first band, he was the one who always received the paycheck and then distributed it to the other members. They jokingly started calling him “the boss.” At least this is what Wikipedia my extensive research tells me.

Clearly I’m not signing any paychecks. But I like the bigger idea of a manager looking out for those he/she manages.  I’m used to looking for opportunities where I can contribute or take ownership of a project, but now I have to balance that with looking out for someone else and making sure she is getting these experiences for growth as well.

2. I like my professional relationships to also be personal. Not too personal, but you know what I mean, within reason. While Michael Scott on The Office may not understand “within reason”, I can understand his need to feel close to his colleagues. I’m an ESFJ, I like sharing and feeling and all that goo in my work environment. I’ve had close relationships with my managers and I know it’s possible with the proper boundaries. But the real question — can we be Facebook friends??

3. Finally, I think the biggest area of growth will be just figuring out what the heck to do in order to be an effective supervisor. But I’m sure I will. I mean, when Tony Micelli arrived at Angela’s door, he didn’t expect to become a housekeeper. And after a few seasons of those crazy mishaps, he became quite excellent. I have to just be comfortable with the uncomfortable for a while. That is not my strong suit.

Despite a bit of self-doubt, I’m very excited for this role and for the professional and personal growth that will come with it. I hope I can be as good of a supervisor as I’ve been lucky to have over the years. I need to re-read this post by my friend and career blogger Joy who solicited feedback about good and bad bosses. And most importantly, I look forward to Monday, Oct. 17th. Feel free to send flowers. 😉

Who are your supervisor role models? What is your management style?

Do You Wordle?

Well folks, it’s Snow Day #4. North Texas continues to be shut down due to ice and now the almost 6 inches of snow we got overnight.

Obligatory snow photo! Obligatory snow photo!

Not too much has changed since my last post about the weather, except perhaps my attitude. And JB and I did venture out Wednesday night for some enchiladas and human interaction. I also figured out why it’s so easy for soap operas to catch you up in 10 minutes. Today I was exposed to All My Children once again (it’s the same channel of the local news I prefer, stop judging). Most of the characters are still in the same clothes as the Tuesday episode except for the one woman who was getting a massage on Tuesday and is now hooked up to tubes in a hospital bed. Bummer. But it’s not too difficult to update a viewer who hasn’t watched in 15 years because in Pine Valley, only one week has passed! Genius!

Anyway, I decided to use this time to put some blog entries into Wordle. On this wonderful and addicting site, you submit text and an image is generated (that you can then customize) showing you the most frequently used words in the copy. I put in some recent posts and here is the Wordle (this is as big as I could get it, you can click on it to enlarge).

Wordle: Blog

Clearly, in the last several entries I have written a lot about “days.” But what really stood out to me was that “perfect” was used so often and, um, where is the word “balance”?? Isn’t that the topic upon which I created my blog in the first place? Isn’t that what I am trying to achieve?

It’s easy to lose track of goals and of a blog theme. I’m going to try to get back on point for both.

So throw some text into Wordle. If you enjoy writing, I think it’s great for seeing all those little words we use so often but shouldn’t – like “really” and “very.” And even if you don’t, let’s face it, if there is a Snow Day #5, you won’t have anything better to do.

Stay cozy!


Thoughts On A Snow Day

The buzz of incoming text messages woke me up today at 6 a.m. I knew this was a good sign. It meant that the overnight ice storm that blew through North Texas resulted in my employer, a local university, shutting down for the day. In its decision, the university joined every other school district, educational institution and countless other area businesses and government offices.

Move over 75-degree weather from 3 days ago, we have ourselves a snow day!

I feel a little guilty about this inclement weather seeing as the DFW Metroplex is hosting a teeny-weeny sporting event this weekend and I want our awesome cities to shine on this national platform. Instead, we will likely endure the mocking from our northern neighbors about our winter weather ineptness.

But here we are. So after the requisite celebration at 6 a.m., the joy of getting back into bed, and finally emerging around 9 a.m., I actually did a little work.

The folder is out and it has a pen attached to it. Working from home? Check!

I spent the day at JB’s place. His office was open, so he really did have to work from home — and his definition of this includes actually working. At one point, he took a break and asked me if I was bored. I was offended — only boring people get bored, I told him! Just look at some of the developments of my day:

1.There was a brief time today when the remote control was out of my reach. As a result, I began to watch All My Children. Within 10 minutes, I was completely caught up on the story lines since the last time I viewed an episode — 15 years ago. I want to master this skill. No more two-hour phone calls with friends to “catch-up.” In just three sentences, I could somehow weave in and allude to everything that has happened in the past week, month, year. Amazing.

2.Clearly there was going to be a lot of HGTV going on today. I am waiting for the day when the host of any of the design shows answers “yes” to the inevitable “Are you kidding me?!?!” shrill that comes out of the mouths of the recipient when he/she sees the home or room makeover. Don’t they watch design shows? They are never kidding.

3.I want to scream “Are you kidding me?!?!” HGTV, come to my little condo. Make it pretty! Or just give me the 2011 dream home.

4. I have no idea what JB does for a living. As I write this, I am eavesdropping on a conference call he is hosting from his study on his cellphone. I thought I understood, but I think he might be a transponster. Regardless, I’m pretty sure he totally knows what he’s talking about!

5. There is a movie coming out about gnomes. Yes, please.

I just re-read this post. I think it’s time I leave the couch or at least open a book. But first – what do you do when forced to stay inside all day? Are snow days as fun as an adult as they were way back when?

Stay safe out there wherever you are!

My Perfect Sunday

I wrote about Blue Monday earlier this week, but I’ve been prompted to move to Sunday. One of the Daily Post topics this week asked readers to describe their idea for a perfect Sunday. I like thinking about perfect days, so here it goes.

Naturally, it would begin with brunch. A wondrous meal because it does not involve getting out of bed early like its more ambitious sibling, breakfast. And on a perfect Sunday, I would definitely not use an alarm clock. Also since it’s perfect, I’m in Austin. Or at least they have opened a Kerbey Lane in Dallas.

Following brunch, I spend the afternoon at a coffee shop reading my book, clearing out the Google Reader and blogging.

After the coffee shop and possibly some loafing on the couch with the past week’s DVR lineup, I meet up with the family for our regular Sunday night dinners. I use the word “dinner” loosely seeing as we eat at about 5 p.m. due to young children and old(er) grandparents with a bedtime.

This is not my family. We're not quite so L.L. Bean.

Finally, I head home and JB comes over. Because I’m already starving again and because it’s a perfect Sunday, we have one last adventure before the work week commences — frozen yogurt. Our strategy: sample all the sugary delicious flavors, but only load your cup up with the no sugar added kinds. I can usually refrain from the candy toppings and stick to granola and yogurt chips. A perfect way to wind down!

And so it ends, my perfect Sunday. But the good news? This isn’t a fantasy day, this is my normal Sunday! There are exceptions of course. At least a couple of Sundays per month, I am showering a friend for a bridal or baby milestone. And this Sunday, for example, I will be taking my nephew to Chuck E. Cheese’s for his birthday. *Waiting for panic attack to pass* Ok, I’m back.

But for the most part, ensuring there is some part of “perfect” in the Sunday is essential for starting the week off balanced and refreshed.

So the obvious question to you — what makes your Sunday perfect? And perhaps the not as obvious — how do you NOT lose a child at Chuck E. Cheese’s?

Happy Blue Monday!

There is some debate about the exact date (last Monday or this Monday) but many people believe that today is Blue Monday — otherwise known as the most depressing day of the year.

Articles abound online contesting this day’s descriptor. Apparently there is actually a proposed scientific equation “proving” that this day is the most melancholy of all, but I’m not sure I buy any of that. The point is that the different factors that make up this theory do exist and they can be depressing. They are:

  • Cold weather and the kidnapping of the sun
  • Holiday weight has not magically disappeared
  • Holiday debt has not magically disappeared
  • New Year’s resolutions are on a break, if not completely broken

I don’t think you can make a mathematical formula out of all this, but if those four things applied to you, then I can see how it could be a crappy day. It is a Monday after all, the day isn’t typically so awesome to begin with.

So if you’re feeling a little down (or if you weren’t before, but now you are because I brought all these converging factors to light), I thought I would share what I plan to do after work on this Monday night (besides watch The Bachelor of course) that always lifts me from a depressed mood: read.

I hate cold weather and I’m ready for it to go away, but it does make for great reading time. I am having one of those “I can’t wait to get home so I can read” experiences right now with my current book, The Passage. It’s not my typical genre, but I’m hooked.

The Passage book cover

It’s also my first book on my new Kindle. I always thought I was a “serious reader” which meant I would miss things like turning pages, having the book on a shelf and so on. I realize now I said all those things just to sound intellectual because I absolutely do not. My friend likes her e-reader so she can hold her baby and read. I like it so I can hold my wine glass and read.

Clearly sitting stationary and drinking wine is not going to do wonders for shedding holiday pounds. Nor is buying books to feed your reading habit going to alleviate your holiday debt. And unless your New Year’s resolution was to “read more”, it probably doesn’t much affect that area either. You also might hate reading, which is totally cool.

I guess what I am really trying to say is — there’s no use feeling depressed about all this. Each year, we get through these challenges. Soon enough we will be complaining about the heat; weight and credit cards eventually settle; and we all still have a lot of time to accomplish in 2011 whatever it is we want to accomplish. So if you only went to the gym through January 6, no one is judging you!

Hope everyone has a fantastic Blue Monday and the week only gets better!

What helps lift your mood? And selfishly, any good book recommendations?